don’t try to write your name in the clouds from the ground

It feels weird to write lately.

It feels weird because there’s so much going on in the world–what feels like a constant string of chaos after tragedy after panic–that it feels somehow wrong to write about a good thing. I feel like my head is on a swivel: I’m constantly checking the news, on friends in the path of natural disasters, so on and so forth. It’s a permanent alert state. Good things feel like they’re not supposed to happen right now, or it feels like writing about a good thing trivializes all of the bad things, pretends they’re not there.

I know that’s not true. Writing about and celebrating moments of joy and hope and community are even more important now, because they’re what tie us together, what keeps us going in the face of it all.

But it still feels weird.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to write about MaxFunCon East before the moment is just another marker on a calendar, or a lanyard hanging on the wall, or photos in my phone to wistfully flip through on a quiet night when I’m feeling sentimental, and I keep coming up empty. (Actually, I didn’t really take a whole lot of photos this year. Part of that is a little bit of a bummer, but it’s mainly because I didn’t really pull my phone out too much this weekend, which is a larger success, in my opinion.)

There’s something about MaxFunCon East that I wish I could bottle and save, keep for those days that are especially rough. And maybe in some way, writing about it is that, but the fact that you can’t bottle it up, that it’s such a unique and special experience just makes it even more dear to me, I think. I know that sounds cornball to the max, but it was what I kept coming back to through the whole weekend: there’s no good way to describe MaxFunCon to other people. I could call it a podcast conference, I could call it a creative retreat (this one is my go to when I talk to people at work about it), but mainly it’s an experience with a bunch of like-minded but diverse people and a reminder that we’re all here for each other, that we’re all in the same boat trying to keep going.

You see, the boat is…the world, I guess? And MaxFunCon is just one of the ways we’re able to bail it out for a moment and take a reprieve from the next wave that’s going to come crashing down on it? I’m losing this metaphor.

Attending MFCE last year was a) one of the highlights of my year and b) one of the most stressful things I’ve done. I don’t regret it in the slightest, but thinking back on it, it does bum me out that I didn’t quite relax and allow myself to really enjoy it until halfway through the event.  And while I was certainly anxious this year too (spoiler alert for every future thing I ever write: I will always be anxious), stepping into the resort lobby in the Pennsylvania mountains two weekends ago was like coming home.

(My home is a haunted resort, have I never mentioned that before?)

It wasn’t long before I was among familiar and new faces: catching up with people I had met last year, meeting first-time attendees. There was no pressure, no worry that I was talking too much, or that I had said the wrong thing, because I knew we were all feeling that like, and it nullified the anxiety. It gave me the bravery to face it head on: I stood in front of everyone on Saturday afternoon during Jean Grae’s incredible keynote and talked about how much I struggled with imposter syndrome and feeling like I “deserved” to be an artist.

“I know everyone feels like this,” I said. “I just wish knowing that changed something.”

“You say you feel like you’re faking it as an artist,” she told me, “but you came up here and introduced yourself as one.”

Oh. I thought. Oh shit, yeah.

Later that night, multiple people came up to me to thank me for going up there and speaking up. Because they felt the same way too, and I had vocalized it for them.

It’s sounds so simple when I write it down, but I’ve been thinking about it constantly because it struck me right to the core. She was so, so right. I said it. I introduce myself as an artist all the time, and I don’t think twice about it, and yet I feel like I have this cloud of imposter syndrome following me wherever I go, like at any moment someone’s going to point at me and yell “wait, she doesn’t belong here! She’s not a real artist!” and usher me out of the room. Something definitely clicked for me in that moment, and while nothing will be the magic spell to make me not feel anxious about my work, it’s another moment I can use to remind myself, another tool in my back pocket to fight against my own anxiety.

MFCE felt almost somber at times this year; the stand-up, showcase the talks, our conversations…they didn’t refuse to acknowledge the world we live in today. It just simply asked “what can we do to keep trying to make it better?”

That’s why events like MaxFunCon East are so important. They’re a moment to take a break from the stress, to laugh at silly jokes and passionately talk about Dungeons and Dragons, sure, but they don’t pretend that the world around them doesn’t exist. Sometimes you need a reprieve, of course (and sometimes that reprieve is singing along to the Talking Heads at the top of your lungs with a room full of people), but it’s not hiding: it’s restoring strength so that you can come back to the fight ready to roll, with new vigor.

This incredible weekend with this community–the first community I’ve felt truly accepted and welcome in–is another moment to remind myself that there’s a reason to keep going, and keep fighting, and keep creating, even if it’s silly or feels meaningless, because there is so much in the world that would say “stop”. But that’s when it’s most important.

But hey. I’m an artist. And you’re an artist too, in whatever you decide to do, even if you don’t think it counts as “art”. (It does. Who gives a shit if it doesn’t belong in a museum?)

And we have each other, through all of this.

And we’re gonna make art.